City, union remain deadlocked on pay reduction proposal
The city and local police union deadlocked again during contract negotiations Wednesday as both parties refused to budge from their proposals.
The city is proposing a 4 percent pay cut for lieutenants, sergeants and officers and a 2 percent pension contribution increase, including a 1 percent pension benefit enhancement in regards to in-line duty disability.
The city originally proposed a 6 percent pay cut, followed by 5 percent.
The Cape Coral Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33 supports a 2 percent pay reduction — up from 1 percent — and a 2 percent pension contribution hike.
At the start of the meeting, union president Kurt Grau cited the recent shooting of Cape Officer David Wagoner and the change in sentiment within the police department. He said it would be difficult now to sell a pay cut.
“I don’t want to use that as leverage, that’s just the nature of what happens in our job,” Grau said.
Since the negotiations in March, a road patrol officer and a sergeant have moved on to other law enforcement agencies. He said 13 others have applied to Tampa’s police department, nearly 10 percent of the Cape’s police force.
“I keep bringing these things to the table and nobody seems to get it,” Grau said.
Union representatives also questioned an amendment to the city’s general fund that will be presented to the city council that increases the fund from about $138.2 million to $143.9 million, a hike of approximately 4.1 percent.
“Why are we being asked to take pay cuts?” Grau asked.
John Hament, the city’s labor attorney, explained that amending the city’s budget is a routine procedure, that it was expected by officials and it helped to dictate the city’s bargaining position. He added that the money cannot be used to mitigate personnel costs.
“It’s not applicable to bringing down employee expenses,” Hament said.
City officials are anticipating a $8.3 million to $9.6 million shortfall.
“It’s not looking rosier for next year,” Hament said.
He acknowledged that there have been some positive signs of the economy turning around, but that they are unreliable at this point and the turnaround will not happen in a year or two. Hament said the city needs the union’s help.
Grau argued that the department has had a salary freeze since 2008.
“There has been help, I agree,” Hament said. “We need more.”
Gene Gibbons, the union’s attorney, accused the city of not bargaining in good faith regarding this issue, along with others, and not negotiating fairly.
“You’re wanting to come in here and take, take, take,” he said. “That’s not how you negotiate with people.”
The union also proposed Wednesday that at the end of the fiscal year — Sept. 30 — the city lift the salary freeze at the department and advance all police officers to their correct pay step level. Officers move up in steps and receive the higher pay provided at each step.
“That element hurts the negotiations,” Hament said.
“These guys haven’t had a raise since 2008 and you want them to take a pay cut,” Grau argued.
Gibbons noted that the police department is currently 36 percent under budget, and that by the year’s end, it will likely be 14 or 15 percent under. He asked that Hament meet again with the city council and city manager.
“And relay to leaders that the union has offered a 3.1 percent concession on overall payroll to help the city and see where they’re at with that,” he said.
Hament agreed to do so.
“We’ll seek our final position and maybe we can get an agreement,” he said.
Hament also put on the table an alternative proposal to the 4 percent-2 percent combination for the union to consider. He suggested a straight 6 percent pay reduction to avoid getting “embroiled with a pension issue.”
Grau said the 6 percent cut would never fly with the Cape officers.
“You would see a mass exodus,” he said.
The city and union representatives are expected to meet again in mid-May.
There is no deadline for a consensus, but the contract is due Sept. 30.